By WBro Damien of Devotion, Editor
July 2015 marks the 100th Edition of Devotion News. I hope you enjoyed them, and that they made you think, perhaps taught you something, or made you smile.
I started Devotion News as a Master Mason. All too often we look to men in dark blue for leadership and its heartening great people supported a newer Freemason producing a newsletter. If we allow our newer members to show us the way, sometimes their fresh views give us better perspectives and better paths to walk. Last weekend I got two great insights to the Craft, one came from a Fellow Craft and another from a Master Mason of only a few years. We need to listen to everyone, and heed those who offer powerful insights and to be rigorous in our “facts and data”. Freemasonry often seems to set its course on gut instinct and guesses – finding they were wrong and we’ve lost time, warrants. members and sometimes assets.
Some editions of Devotion News certainly sparked debate and the support of friends here and overseas has been inspiring – especially during tough times tackling issues others were not brave enough openly speak about. As a number of brethren remind each other – “truth” is one of the Grand Principles of our Order, along with relief (every time I hit “send” and email out an edition!)…. and brotherly love… Editorials examining the “truth” of various ideas always need to be written and responded to with the respect and patience brotherly love demands. A willingness to promote ideas, even when contrary to prevailing thinking and “head office”, makes Devotion News unique amongst Victorian lodge newsletters. Growth, tolerance, acceptance, exploration, thinking and self improvement are central to Freemasonry – if we can’t try to do that through a newsletter – then we’ve lost the plot.
At times, we’ve done a brilliant job as a forum for discussion, often where others failed, and in doing a better job, have got our point heard. Sometimes we’ve missed the mark, but we tried and the only way to never get anything wrong is by doing nothing. Constructive criticism over the years have improved the newsletter – so please keep those comments coming.
The first edition of Devotion News appeared when Stephen Paterson was in the chair in March 2006. A reworking of an earlier lapsed one-pager, I smiled at suggestions to include a picture or two and a few paragraphs on education and events. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but at times it is fair to say I’ve been surprised at some of the roads we have walked. I’ve been shocked by the support and approval of what we publish, and as an editor – love when we get an intelligent opposing response. There have been several healthy debates in our pages. Sometimes I get it wrong – last edition, Hiram Abiffs letter got some adverse (and fair) comment, but people are generally generous and forgiving. All we can do is to try to make our passions and prejudices coincide with the just line of our conduct. I try to be intelligent on what I publish, and I do sometimes reject articles. It can be hard, relatively few go to the effort to write one.
At times, Devotion News became a lightening rod of discontent – most notably on the first sale of Dallas Brooks Hall which was widely opposed and saw our current Grand Master become a target of hostility. So did I – ironically one abusing email about DBH told me to up newsletters “and stick to real estate”. How ironic. However, the final outcome of GL withdrawing that vote was good – I’m sad to see DBH now sold, but it was done under better terms than the first deal. I still think people do not realize it’s value, the building itself was insured for $20 million. Like Collins St and the Hospital, history will lament the sale – whether it be right or wrong. However it is water under the bridge now and we need to move on – but retain the lesson we can only keep buildings if we financially manage them well. Sadly, we are still terrible at it. I must not let my passion on this topic dominate – but passion has been key to Devotion News’s success. That passion has sometimes been on both sides, and proudly we can say varying opinion met in Devotion News – I still love to publish articles I don’t agree with – we learn nothing from having a one sided debate. I’ve made some good friends of people reacting to Devotion News – some I still debate in friendship over a meal. Some via email because they live interstate or overseas. What’s important is at times we’ve all changed our thinking for better outcomes. It makes for more interesting reading than what we ate last meeting or the latest cheque presentation.. Such discussions have also seen me form some great friendships.
Over 9 years we have consistently produced a monthly edition with the exception of mid 2013 June to October. A critical component and driver in that has been our contributors. Above all, Don Paterson of Don’s Diary (DD) has been the most consistent. I regard the back page as his and the only edition he has not written for was the first. In the Second Edition, Don’s Diary appeared on the back page with a comments on a Scottish night and recipe for Athole Brose. This edition I will publish 2 Don’s Diaries so he can claim 100 entries. However Don has also written articles so his contributions are certainly over 100 articles. This month’s edition of DD on “actually helping” was not written with the newsletter itself as a publication in mind, but Don has certainly helped put Devotion News on the map, and personally, he’s been a great mentor and source of constant encouragement. He has not been alone, and every Master of 723 has either actively contributed or simply written a Master’s Message and left me alone to get on with the job. Thanks to you all. I will also follow this with a role of honour (see page 14) of those who wrote for us – we can’t have a newsletter without content. It’s also allowed us to build a web site of 364 pages. If Devotion News is to have a bright future, it needs bright people to contribute to it (HINT HINT!).
In the back of my mind, I’ve always thought Devotion News would become an interesting historical document. In 100 years people will be able to read of what we thought about MAPs, Dallas Brooks Hall, the sale of our buildings, how lodges are run, what was important to us, and see the fashion and faces of the day. The latter have changed a fair bit over 10 years.
We’ve also inspired other lodge newsletters to be founded – including one in New Zealand. A Lodge Newsletter promotes a lodge and gives a forum for people to promulgate ideas and also publish education articles – or simply promote events.
It’s good to see Grand Lodge in the e-mag space. The last edition of ENGAGE! was also the 100th. When the first Dallas Brooks Hall sale was proposed, Devotion News out communicated GL with more frequent and (in my opinion) better content. On one level, that was fundamentally wrong – Devotion News has no paid staff, yet used to out-communicated GL… if only we could get some two sided debates in GL’s publications – it would help dialogue and we might more effectively advance Freemasonry and lodges. It’s good to see membership challenges being written about in ENGAGE. We should take a leaf from Rotary that has a culture of “sharing Rotary” – we too should work to share Freemasonry with those outside the Craft.
For a future reader, we managed to use the number “Edition 95” twice for Dec 2014 and February 2015. There was never an edition marked “96” and editions were dated but not numbered with edition numbers until October 2008. However this is definitely our 100th edition.
Some statistics and information on our first 99 Editions: we’ve published 949 pages, averaging 9.6 per edition. We’ve written 467,758 words. I’ve edited 84 editions, Stephen Paterson edited 15 while I was in the chair of Devotion. Guest editors are good – they improve the newsletter and bring fresh look and approach. And one day I will retire and someone else hopefully will have a go.
In 2009 we established our web site which now has 365 pages. It has had over 55,000 unique visitors. It is used as a source of information and is often shared, there are backlinks to it from sites like Wikipedia and several Grand and subordinates lodges. We will continue to grow our webpage,
I mentioned some of our readers. When tackling issues, our circulation swelled. It’s always been a big secret but our direct circulation in 2015 has fallen below 500. We need to start building that again.
We also need to look for more issues to explore. Candidate retention and lodge growth being two critical and pressing issues at the moment. People do read Devotion News - and I encourage people to share good ideas via it. Or anything of interest to our readers.
Thanks to everyone who has given me and our writers encouragement.
Devotion News, current, and foundation, editor.